New Zealand Maritime Border Information

Released 25 September 2020


Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic the New Zealand maritime border is closed to foreign vessels.

It has been closed since 30 June 2020. New Zealanders are still able to return home. New Zealand citizens, on either a New Zealand or foreign vessel, do not have to apply for an exemption.

However, if any of the vessel's crew are foreign citizens, then the vessel must be approved to enter New Zealand through the exemption process.

The Ministry of Health has provided the following information for small craft and yachts:

  • There are existing exemptions for commercial vessels and some other limited circumstances.
  • One of those limited circumstances is that a vessel may be exempt if the Director-General of Health has granted permission for it to arrive in New Zealand for compelling humanitarian reasons.
  • The Ministry of Health has a process that foreign vessels, including yachts, can use to apply for a humanitarian exemption and we would encourage people to use that process.
  • All applications are considered on their individual circumstances. So it is difficult to provide specific examples of what does and does not constitute a compelling humanitarian need.
  • It is not a tick-box exercise, rather a thorough consultation process with multiple agencies which considers multiple aspects of the application.
  • The Ministry of Health process can take 15-20 working days.
  • If a vessel is granted an exemption, applicants must also apply to Immigration NZ for permission to enter the country.
  • The relevant information is published on the Ministry of Health website.
  • The bar to qualify for a humanitarian exemption is necessarily high, to avoid creating an unwanted 'backdoor' into New Zealand.
  • The Ministry of Health has previously provided guidance to potential applicants that 'humanitarian reasons' would be unlikely to include situations relating solely to financial loss, or to vessels traveling primarily for pleasure or convenience such as tourists or 'wintering over'.
  • People in vessels traveling to New Zealand to 'winter over (e.g. to avoid hurricane/cyclone season in the Pacific) may have other genuine humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs for coming, which would need to be demonstrated in order for these vessels to qualify for an exemption.
  • But financial loss alone is unlikely to suffice (e.g. issues around lack of insurance coverage).
  • This position was developed in conjunction with other agencies including Customs, Immigration NZ and Maritime New Zealand.
  • That said, section 13 of the Maritime Border Order states that if a ship is in distress and/or it is necessary to preserve human life then clauses 8 and 9(1) do not apply (Non-New Zealand citizens or foreign vessels barred entry).
  • In these circumstances vessels will be allowed to enter New Zealand.
  • However, any deliberate attempt to contravene the Order would be liable for prosecution and could result in a fine, imprisonment or forfeiture of the vessel.

New Zealand Customs in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and other border agencies is developing a Guidance for Small Craft arriving into New Zealand that will outline what is required for New Zealanders returning home and small craft and yachts that have an exemption to enter New Zealand through the maritime border.

The guidance will tell you what you need to do during your journey and on arrival into New Zealand.

The above document will be released early next week.